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Pictonians at Home and Abroad
The Religious History of the County


PICTOU County is probably the strongest Presbyterian community in Canada. Presbyterianism was first on the ground, and has continued in possession. So far as known, all who came in the "Hope" and "Hector" were Presbyterians, with the exception of one man on the "Hope" and one family on the "Hector" who were Roman Catholics. The South of Scotland settlers were, without exception, Presbyterians.

 

  The first settled minister, Rev. James McGregor, D.D., was an ardent Presbyterian, as was also his coadjutor, Rev. D. Ross. These two, with Dr. McCulloch who came later, for over forty years upheld the blue banner of Presbyterianism, and planted the seed out of which grew many of the leading churches, not only in the County but in the Maritime Provinces.

 

  The early settlers in Pictou were almost exclusively Scottish. They and their descendants have proved themselves worthy of their nationality. They believed profoundly in the Word of God and in the blessings of education. They were ardent lovers of the Sabbath and the Sanctuary. The great truths and principles of Presbyterianism they brought with them to their new home, where they had much to do with the making and moulding of Pictou's religious life and history. No group of Scotsmen could long be content without the ordinances of religion; and hardly had the first ground been cleared and the first seeds planted in Pictou before its pioneers began to ask for the ministrations of their Church.

 

  One hundred and fifty years ago, there was not so far as known, a single Presbyterian minister in Nova Scotia.

 

  One hundred years ago there were but eight or nine, and none at all in any of the other Maritime Provinces. Indeed, there were then only three other Presbyterian ministers in all Canada; Revs. George Henry and Alexander Spark of Quebec, and Rev. John Bethune of Montreal, the latter of whom held the first Presbyterian service in that city, on March 12, 1786. West of Montreal there were at that time no Presbyterian ministers. Ontario was an almost uninhabited wilderness, and the Great North West was unknown.

 

  The first minister who labored in Nova Scotia was Rev. James Lyon who was an Ulster Scotsman. He arrived here in 1764 or 1765 and remained about seven years. He was a graduate of Princeton, N. J., and was ordained to the ministry in 1764. He was' a member of the Philadelphia Land Company which sent the pioneer settlers to Pictou in the "Hope"; and in all probability it was arranged that he should be the minister for the new settlement. But it is found that for several years he ministered to the people of Halifax, Onslow and Truro. In 1769, he removed to Pictou with his family, remaining only about two years, after which he went to Maine. The only memorial of his visit to Pictou is that he gave his name to Lyon's Brook.

 

  A few years after Mr. Lyon's departure, James Davidson, a schoolmaster, established a Sabbath School at Lyon's Brook for the religious instruction of the young. Mr. Davidson came from Scotland to Truro with Rev. Mr. Cock in 1772. Soon afterwards he removed to Pictou with his family; secured a lot at Lyon's Brook, and made his home there. On week days he taught the children reading, writing and arithmetic; on the Sabbath he gathered them together in his house to teach them the Shorter Catechism and the Word of God.

 

  It is said that his was the first Sabbath School in the County, and probably in the Province. If this is true,

 

then to an old-time school master belongs the honor of originating the Sabbath School idea, and Mr. Davidson was the first in line of a noble band of teachers, to whom, the county of Pictou owes much of its fame. This was many years before Robert Raikes began his world-wide Sabbath School movement. Mr. Davidson returned in 1776, to Truro, where he ended his days.

 

  In April, 1818, a Sabbath School was organized in Prince St. Church, Pictou. Its promoters were Robert Dawson and John Geddie. Rev. Thomas McCulloch was pastor when the school started. It began with about eighty scholars. Ten years later the school had increased to 260. The first superintendents were Robert and James Dawson. The first teachers were John Geddie, F. Ross, David Fraser and R. S. Patterson.

 

  In 1823 a Sabbath School Society was formed for the purpose of organizing schools in the outlying districts. In four years the number had increased to 75, chiefly through the agency of this society. The first Sabbath School in New Glasgow was organized about 1838, in St. Andrew's Church, by Rev. John Stewart who was then pastor. He taught the Bible Class, which was held in the church during the summer months, and in the winter months in the manse. Among the first teachers were John McKay, Alexander McKay, Dr. Forrest and the wife of Rev. John Stewart.

 

  From the time of the arrival of the "Hope" and "Hector" the colony increased in numbers and influence. A steady stream of immigrants. continued to pour into the county till, in 1786, the total population was about five hundred. These were settled principally along the three rivers, East, Middle and West with a few families scattered around the shore, from Pictou to Merigomish. Rev. Mr. Cock of Truro frequently visited the people and preached to them. Indeed, many considered him their minister, and traveled thirty miles on foot to Truro to observe the Lord's Supper sometimes carrying their children there for baptism. But the time had come for them to have a minister of their own.

 

  Accordingly, a committee was appointed, consisting of Robert and John Patterson of Pictou, William Smith of the West River, Robert Marshall, Middle River, and Donald McKay of East River, to secure a minister. They agreed to pay eighty pounds for the first and second years. The call was sent to Scotland. It came before the General Associate Synod of Scotland at its meeting on May 3, 1786, when it was accepted by Rev. James McGregor who accordingly sailed for Halifax, from Greenock, in the brig Lily, on the fourth day of June, 1786.

 

  Dr. McGregor was born in Perthshire, Scotland in 1759, He arrived in Nova Scotia in July 11, l786, when he was 27 years of age. He had had some experience in ministerial work in Scotland. He was a good scholar and a sound theologian. His knowledge of Gaelic was accurate and his mastery of the language complete, as may be seen from his "Gaelic Poems and Hymns," which are still in demand among Highlanders.

 

   He landed in Halifax, after a voyage of 37 days, and at once proceeded to Pictou, where he arrived on Saturday, the twenty-first day of July, 1786. His welcome was cordial. His first sermon was preached in Squire Patterson's barn about a mile west of the present town. He preached in English in the forenoon from the text, "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners", and in Gaelic in the afternoon on "The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost."

 

  The second Sabbath after his arrival, July 30th, he preached at the East River, a little below what was afterwards Albion Mines. The third Sabbath's preaching took place at the lower end of the Middle River, at what was then Alexander Fraser's homestead. It was at this time he first met Robert Marshall, who was afterwards his life-long friend and helper. Early in October he visited the upper settlement of the East River. His first sermon in that section was preached at James McDonald's intervale, (now Cameron's) under the shade of a large elm tree, which forms the frontispiece of this book. The tree is still standing and flourishing vigorously. Occasionally, he preached at Mr. Charles McIntosh's, about six miles farther up the River in a grove of trees, and at West Branch at Mr. Donald Chisholm's or at James Cameron's. Late in the Autumn, he paid his first visit to Merigomish. where for thirty years he continued at intervals to give supply. During the summer he preached in the open air, then during the winter, in private dwellings.

 

  For nine years, Dr. McGregor was the sole minister in Pictou County, preaching, visiting, traveling on snowshoes in winter, and in summer literally paddling his own canoe. His congregation was widely scattered, and his mission field extensive.

 

  Among the settlers who came to Pictou in 1783, were three Frasers, who all settled on the East River. Their names were; Thomas, Simon and Alexander Fraser. They are noteworthy because they were the first elders chosen to that office. Having been previously ordained as elders before leaving Scotland, they were elected by the people, and these three men, with Dr. McGregor, as Moderator, formed the first session in Pictou, Sept. 17, 1786, thus completing the organization of the congregation which at that time comprised the whole county.

 

  The next year the session was increased by the addition of Donald McKay and Peter Grant of the East River. Robert Marshall and Kenneth Fraser of the Middle River, John McLean and Hugh Fraser of the West River and John Patterson of the Harbor. They were ordained on May 6, 1787.

 

During the summer, the people built two log churches, the first in the county. The one was situated near the site of the old Duff Cemetery, a short distance above New Glasgow; the other on the Loch Broom side of the West River, beside a brook, on land, owned at that time, by William MacKenzie, who gave the site. Dr. McGregor describes the building of these churches. During the month of July 1787, the men were chiefly engaged in building the two meeting houses. Instead of having contractors, to build them, they agreed to divide the work among themselves. One party cut the logs and hauled them to the site; another hewed and laid them; another provided the shingles; those who had knowledge of carpentering made the doors and the windows; the glass and nails were bought. Moss was stuffed between the logs to keep out the wind and rain. The churches at first had no pulpits, and, when they were provided at a later date, they were not of mahogany, but of the white pine of Pictou. The buildings were some thirty-five or forty feet long, by twenty-five to thirty feet wide. The only seats in them were logs of wood with the upper side hewed. It is unnecessary to state that they were without cushions. There was a gallery, or rather, an upper story, with a floor seated with logs and slabs to which the young went up by ladders.

 

  Such were the first two churches of Pictou. They had no modern improvements. Even the luxury of a fire in winter was unknown. There were no carriages and no roads at that date Our dear mothers in Israel walked to church, or went by boat or horseback, in bonnet and shawl and gingham dress. The music was far from pretentious. The preacher and his sermon would now be considered antiquated. But the writer of this volume is old fashioned enough to think that no sweeter praise and prayers ever ascended to God than these devout pioneers offered in glen and glade and primitive building. With all our knowledge and progress, we have not got beyond them in essentials.

 

In 1803, the old log church near New Glasgow was replaced by a frame-building at Irishtown, (now called Plymouth). Here Dr. McGregor built a house made of brick, the first of its kind in the Eastern part of the Province. He employed a man from the old country to make the brick. Here he lived till near the close of his life. The fact that Dr. McGregor received no salary until he had been over a year at work did not prevent him from doing his whole duty as a minister. His salary was to be eighty pounds for the first two years, ninety for the third and fourth and one hundred pounds currency per year thereafter, which was a very generous allowance for that time, more particularly in a new and struggling settlement The salary at first was raised by an assessment on lands and cattle. With certain changes this was continued till 1815, when the method of obtaining the salary was changed to voluntary subscription.

 

On the 27th day of July, 1788, the first Sacrament was held at Middle River, in the open air. It was dispensed on a beautiful green plot, on the left bank of the river, sheltered by a lofty wood. Here one hundred and thirty sat down in Nature's great cathedral, for the first time in this new land, to own a Saviour's dying love. There the sacred Supper was dispensed annually till l795. At the first communion thirty-eight new communicants joined. Each year there were a few additions till, in 1793, the number had reached two hundred and forty. At the same time five hundred persons were under training with a view to becoming communicants. In 1793 a census of the County was taken. In 1769, there had been 18 families and a total population of 120. In 1786. there were 90 families and about 500 people. In 1793, there were 178 families, a gain of one hundred per cent in seven years.

 

  For nine years Dr. McGregor labored alone At the end of that time two young ministers arrived from Scotland, Revs. Duncan Ross and John Brown. They reached Pictou in the summer of 1795, and remained there for a little time to rest. Meantime the sacrament of the Supper was dispensed at Middle River. Messrs. Ross and Brown assisted in preaching and serving the tables.

 

  The next step was for those three to organize a Presbytery. Accordingly, at the close of the sacrament, on Monday, July 7,1795, Messrs. McGregor, Ross and Brown held a meeting in Robert Marshall's barn, and formed themselves into "The Associate Presbytery of Nova Scotia." On this occasion Dr. McGregor preached on Neb. 2:20, "The God of heaven, he will prosper us; therefore we his servants will arise and build." The meetings of Presbytery were occasions of rich enjoyment. Business was apparently a secondary matter, at all events, for five years, they kept no minutes of their proceedings. But their meetings were scenes of hearty Christian fellowship and conference about the trials or successes of their work; intelligence from friends in the dear homeland, the new movement in Missions, the meaning of some particular text, or sometimes an hour of harmless mirth and merriment, these engaged their attention and made their meetings times of fraternal enjoyment.

 

  Dr. McGregor and Mr. Ross were associate ministers for the county till July 14, 1801, when a division was made. Thereafter West and Middle Rivers formed one congregation, with Mr. Ross as minister. East River, another, with Dr. McGregor in charge; and the Harbor a third, to be supplied by these two till another minister could be secured.

 

  In Nov. 1803, Rev. Dr. Thos. McCulloch, with his wife and three children, arrived at Pictou from Scotland. His coming was a great event in the ecclesiastical and

 

educational history of the County, as well as in that of the Province. He had been assigned to Prince Edward Island, but owing to the lateness of the season, he was unable to secure passage. He was engaged to supply the Harbor congregation till spring. Before winter was over, the people gave him a call, and he was inducted as their minister, June 6, 1804. The town of Pictou, at this time, consisted of something over a dozen houses, a few barns, a blacksmith shop and the Court House. There was no church, and the people met in private dwellings and other places. Until that time the people of the Harbor had worshipped in the log church at Loch Broom, but they now set about the erection of a church of their own, and a frame building was built on the lot at present occupied by Prince St. Church. That building served the congregation till 1848, when the existing church was erected. Dr. McCulloch resigned in 1824 to give his whole time to educational work. He was succeeded by Rev. John McKinlay who continued in charge till his death, 1850. He in turn was succeeded by Rev. James Bayne, D.D. Mr. McKinlay was a native of Scotland, and came to this country in 1817. For several years he was a teacher in Pictou Academy before he became pastor of the Harbor church.

 

  River John was organized into a congregation in 1808, with Rev. John Mitchell as its first settled minister. There were about fifty families at this time in the community. Mr. Mitchell, who came from England, was in early life a rope-maker, but being anxious to preach the Gospel, he prepared himself for the work when about thirty years of age.

 

  He made several missionary tours in Canada before settling in River John. Though originally a Congregationalist, he united with the Presbytery of Pictou. His labors extended over a district now served by five or six ministers. Here he labored with great diligence and faithfulness, giving special attention to the training of the young and the superintendence of prayer meetings. He died in 1841, in the seventy-sixth year of his age. He is described as a man of great cheerfulness.

 

  Rev. William Patrick was the first minister at Merigomish, and the fifth in the county. He came to Merigomish in 1815 and was inducted pastor. In early life he was brought up in the Reformed Presbyterian Church, but connected himself with the Anti-Burgher Church. Mt. Patrick labored with great fidelity, preaching on week days as well as Sabbaths, and faithfully attending to family visitation, prayer services and catechising. On May 7, 1844, the Rev. A. P. Miller was ordained as his colleague. On the 25th of Nov., 1844, he died, greatly beloved by his people, aged 73 years.

 

  An event of much importance to the Presbyterian Church took place on the third of May, 1817, when a union between the Burgher and Anti-Burgher Churches was consummated. The united body assumed the name of The Presbyterian Church of Nova Scotia, and a Synod was formed and divided into three Presbyteries. Rev. James McGregor was chosen as first Moderator. Of the nineteen ministers of the Synod of Nova Scotia, fourteen had been connected with the Anti-Burgher Church, three with the Church of Scotland and two were Congregationalists. This union was productive of much good. The hearts of ministers and people were greatly encouraged. Now they were one body, ready to establish and build up the Kingdom.

 

  Hitherto the Church had been dependent upon Scotland for its ministers; but it had long been evident that they must look elsewhere for their supply. Accordingly, in 1820, the Synod established a Theological Hall in Pictou for the training and education of a native ministry.

 

  Pictou claims the honor of being the birthplace of the first Presbyterian Theological School in Canada. The moving spirit in the enterprise was the Rev. Thomas McCulloch, D. D., an enthusiastic educationist and a man of wonderful foresight. As early as 1805, two years after his arrival from Scotland, we find him planning a school for the education of young men which resulted in 1816 in the establishment of Pictou Academy, where several young men who had the ministry in view were prepared for entering upon a theological course.

 

  In the autumn of 1820 the Divinity Hall was opened with Dr. McCulloch as the first Professor of Theology. The classes were taught in one of the rooms at Pictou Academy. Twelve students entered upon the study of theology the first term. The young men supported themselves by teaching and met the professor at intervals of a fortnight to receive instruction in their theological studies. In 1824, the first fruits of the church's educational efforts were realized in the licensing, ordaining and settlement of six of the students. These were Messrs. R. S. Patterson, John L. Murdoch, John McLean, Angus McGillivray, Hugh Ross and Hugh Dunbar. The first four were licensed on June 8, 1824 by the Presbytery of Pictou. Three of these, Messrs. Patterson, Murdoch and McLean before accepting calls, proceeded to Scotland, where after passing a creditable examination they received the degree of Master of Arts from the University of Glasgow.

 

  One of the first of the graduates to be settled was Angus McGillivray. He became the worthy successor of Dr. McGregor in the Upper Settlement of the East River. He was inducted Sept. 1, 1824. For the long period of 40 years he continued to labor, amidst great discouragements, but with great fidelity. In 1864 he tendered his resignation and on the 20th of July 1869 he died in the 77th year of his age and the 45th of his ministry. His congregation included both the East and West Branch, a district now supporting five Presbyterian ministers. The first meeting house on the East River was at Grant's Lake, on the farm now occupied by Joseph H. Grant. It was a log house, built in 1790, and served the East and West Branches.

 

  Having visited London and Edinburgh, Messrs. McLean, Murdoch and Patterson returned to Nova Scotia reaching Pictou after a passage of forty five days. They were soon settled in pastoral charges.' Mr. McLean was ordained in 1825 and in l826 accepted a call to Richibucto, N. B. In a short time he was compelled to resign his charge on account of ill health. For two years he conducted a private academy in Halifax with success. He died in 1837, in the 37th year of age. During his brief ministry he was distinguished as an able preacher, and a zealous missionary; he took a deep interest in Sunday school work and was one of the first advocates of the cause of temperance.

 

  Mr. Murdoch was settled at Windsor and died there in 1873, in the 74th year of his age. His congregation extended allover western Hants and for nearly fifty years he preached there with ability and success. He was greatly beloved by his people and was the spiritual father of many children. He was a valuable member of the courts of the church. One of the ecclesiastical measures which he brought before the Synod in 1840 was, that this Synod do form itself into a society to be called "The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in the Lower Provinces." Dr. Keir and Mr. Murdoch drafted the rules which were adopted. The successor of that domestic Missionary Society is the Board of Home Missions of the church of today of which Mr. Murdoch was a member as long as he lived.

 

  Bedeque, in Prince Edward Island was the scene of Mr. Patterson's ministry. At the time of his settlement in l825 it is said there was not a wagon in the parish or a mile of road in which to run one. The country was almost an unbroken forest. The congregation at first was small and during the greater part of his ministry he did not receive more than $300 per year and only half in money. He labored without interruption till a few years before his death in 1882, having been 56 years and a half in the ministry. Mr. Patterson was a distinguished student and a true friend of popular education. His zeal for missions is well known and second only in fervor to Dr. Geddie's.

 

  In 1827 Mr. Ross accepted a call to Tatamagouche and New Annan. Here he continued until 1840 when he accepted a charge in Prince Edward Island, where he died suddenly in 1858.

 

  Mr. Dunbar was an English and Gaelic preacher. He settled at Cavendish, Prince Edward Island in 1827. Resigning in 1840 he engaged in teaching but also preached regularly where he resided. He died in 1857. These six men have this prominence and honor in common that they were the pioneer native ministers of British North America, at all events of the Presbyterian Church.

 

  From this time forward the Church made rapid growth and progress. Congregations were formed, and suitable pastors settled over them. Home missions were established to aid the weaker churches. It was a time of strengthening and enlargement.

 

  On April 16, 1813, over a hundred years ago, a Bible Society was organized at Durham, N. S., the first in the County and the second in the Province, that in Truro being first. The first contribution received for the Bible Society, London, from any place outside of England, came from Pictou County. Money was a rare commodity in those days, but, in 1807, two hundred and fifty-six dollars, and, in 1808, three hundred and twenty dollars were collected in the county and sent to the London Society. In 1825, the Society was reorganized, with headquarters in Pictou. In 1840 the New Glasgow district was organized into a branch of its own.

 

  For forty-four years Dr. McGregor labored in the County. He died on the third day of March, 1830. He had lived to see the congregation of which he was originally the sole Pastor grow and develop into six congregations with settled pastors, a Presbytery and a Synod organized to conduct the business of the church, an Academy and Seminary founded to educate and train ministers, and the cause of Presbyterianism firmly established in the Maritime Provinces.

 

  Dr. McGregor was twice married, first to Ann, daughter of Roderick McKay, by whom he had James, Christina (Mrs. Abram Patterson, Pictou), Roderick, Jessie (Mrs. Charles Fraser, Green Hill), Sarah (Mrs. George McKenzie, New Glasgow), and Robert.

 

  In 1812 he married Mrs. Gordon, widow of Rev. Peter Gordon, by whom he had Mary (Mrs. (Rev.) John Cameron, Nine Mile River), Annabel (Mrs. (Rev.) John Campbell), Sherbrooke, and Peter Gordon.

 

  His successor in the New Glasgow congregation was Rev. David Roy, who was inducted, April 13, 1831.

 

  Four years after Dr. McGregor's death, Mr. Ross died, in the sixty-fifth year of his age. For thirty nine years he wrought with great faithfulness and diligence. Besides pulpit and pastoral duties, he gave considerable time to public affairs. He took a deep interest in education, being a trustee of Pictou Academy from its beginning, till his death. He was a pioneer in the organization of temperance work. The idea of a total abstinence Society originated at the West River, and the honor of forming the first Society on this basis in Nova Scotia, and the second in Canada, belongs to its founders. It was organized in January 1828, and Rev. Duncan Ross, George McDonald and Donald McLeod were the prime movers.

 

  Mr. Ross' last public act was assisting at a Communion service in Pictou, town, and taking a leading part in the ordination of Alexander McKenzie, a young student from the Seminary. He married Miss Elizabeth Creelman of Stewiacke, and had a family of fifteen children. Two of the sons were Rev. James Ross, D.O., afterwards Principal of Dalhousie College, who succeeded him, and Rev. E. Ross of Truro. A daughter who was married to Mr. Miller, Rogers Hill, gave three sons to the ministry, and another married to Mr. Crockett, gave two sons.

 

We now come to the story of the Kirk in the County of Pictou. For many years, a large number of the immigrants, chiefly from the Highlands of Scotland, who had settled in Pictou, belonged to the Church of Scotland or the Kirk. They naturally had great affection for the church of their fathers, but continued to attend the AntiBurgher Church, which was the only Presbyterian Church within their reach. From time to time, many of them were appointed elders and office bearers in Dr. McGregor's and Mr. Ross' congregations. A spirit of harmony and cooperation prevailed. But, alas! a root of bitterness sprung up. Upon this unfortunate story it would be vain to dwell.

 

  At that time Rev. Donald Allan Fraser came from Scotland and landed at Pictou in 1817. Sometime afterwards a large number of the Kirk people withdrew from the connection altogether, and formed themselves into the Church of Scotland in Nova Scotia with Rev. Mr. Fraser as their leader. Mr. Fraser was a man eminently qualified to gain the hearts and affections of the Highlanders - young and handsome, an accomplished scholar and a powerful Gaelic preacher. The first congregation organized was at McLennan's Brook. There were about forty families settled there at that time, all Highlanders. They extended to him a call which he accepted.

 

  They erected a frame church capable of seating about five hundred persons. This was the first church in the County erected in connection with the Church of Scotland. Beside it, they built a log house for himself and his wife. Next year a church was built at Fraser's mountain. about six miles from McLennan's Brook and two miles from New Glasgow. There were some twenty-five families connected with it, and it became in course of time, the nucleus from which St. Andrew's Church, New Glasgow was formed. Here Mr. Fraser continued to labor with great acceptance and success until 1837, when, to the regret of his congregation, he removed to Lunenburg. Thence he went to St. Johns, Newfoundland, and founded St. Andrew's Church. He died, Feb. 7, 1845, greatly honored as a preacher and as a man. He was the first Presbyterian minister settled in Newfoundland. His son, late Hon. J. O. Fraser, St. Johns, Nfd., spent his early manhood at McLennan's Brook.

 

  The next Kirk congregation organized was St. Andrew's Church in the town of Pictou. It first met for worship, in the old Court House, in 1822. In 1823, a wooden building was erected. Their first minister was Rev. K. J. McKenzie, a native of Stornoway, Scotland, who came to Pictou in 1824. He was a man of fine ability and a good preacher in Gaelic and English. His labors were chiefly confined to the Town where he took a prominent part in the educational and political questions of the day. He died in 1838, in the 39th year of his age. He was succeeded by Rev. Mr. Williamson. In 1849, Rev. Andrew Herdman became pastor and ministered for thirty years. In 1866, a brick and stone building was erected. It was burnt in 1893, but rebuilt shortly afterwards.

 

  The next organization after Pictou town was West Branch and East River formed into one congregation. The two districts were nearly equally divided in the number of families, between the Kirk and the Anti-Burghers. For many years Dr. McGregor supplied the one section, and Mr. Fraser the other.

 

  Rev. Angus McGillivray succeeded Dr. McGregor in 1824. The Kirk people were without a settled minister until 1832 when Rev. John Macrae carne from Inverness, Scotland to be their pastor. Both parties now had regular services, but there was only one church in each district occupied by Kirk and Anti-Burghers on alternate Sabbaths. In 1815 framed buildings were erected at St. Paul's, East River, on the hill above the present church, and at the West Branch, on a hill near Cameron's Brook, not far from St. Columba's Church. Mr. Macrae entered upon his work with great zeal and continued to labor most acceptably to the people for 16 years, when he returned to Scotland.

 

  In the Western part of the County, a congregation was organized at Gairloch and Saltsprings. These two districts contained about four hundred families, nearly all from the Highlands of Scotland. There first minister was Rev. Hugh McLeod who settled there in 1822. He was succeeded by Rev. Donald McIntosh who remained until the disruption.

 

  Rogers Hill, now Scotsburn, was formed into a congregation about the same time as Gairloch and Saltsprings. The community was settled by Highlanders from Sutherlandshire, who nearly all belonged to the Kirk. The first church (St John's) was built in 1823, and is the oldest church building in the County. Rev. Roderick Macaulay was the first minister. In a few years he went to Prince Edward Island, where he entered into politics and became speaker of House of Assembly. The next minister was the Rev. Donald McConnichie. He was a powerful Gaelic preacher, and the Highlanders considered him very eloquent in the first and best of all tongues. He left for Scotland in 1844.

 

  In 1827 Barney's River was organized into a congregation, with Rev. Donald McKichan as its first minister. He was a man of some ability and a faithful pastor. After a few years he removed to Cape Breton. At a later date he returned to his first charge, and remained there till 1844. The people of Barney's River were nearly all Kirk men. For ten years the people were dependent on Home Mission supply part of which was given by Rev. Dr. McGillivray of McLennan's Mountain. The next pastor of the Kirk congregation was Rev. James Mair, in 1857.

 

  The Kirk grew and prospered. The grain of mustard seed had grown into a stately tree. During the period of twenty-six years, the Kirk had become strong and influential. Then, suddenly, her progress was arrested by an unfortunate division.

 

  During all those years, a memorable conflict had been going on in the Kirk, in the Old Land, which resulted in the disruption of 1843 and the formation of the Free Church of Scotland, led by Rev. Dr. Chalmers.

 

  The ecclesiastical disturbance took a year to cross the sea, but it arrived in due time, and the Free Church in Nova Scotia was formed. It was a time of excitement and confusion. Old-time ties were severed; venerable associations were broken up. There were painful misgivings and divisions and hard feelings were engendered. But it is not necessary to dwell on this unhappy story. It is a thing of the past; there let it rest. That year, seven of the Kirk ministers in Pictou returned to Scotland to fill pulpits made vacant by Free Church ministers. A majority of the people remained in the Kirk but they were, for most part, as sheep without a shepherd.

 

  Rev. John Stewart, New Glasgow, was of the first to join the Free Church movement. He became pastor of St. Andrew's Church immediately after Mr. Fraser's resignation, in 1837. In 1819 a frame church was built at Fraser's Mountain. It was originally a part of McLennan's Mountain congregation. but was separated in 1830, when the church was moved down to New Glasgow and placed on a site near the present St. Andrew's Church. This was the first church building in New Glasgow.

 

  When Mr. Stewart left the Kirk, about one hundred and forty-five families, and all the elders, save one, went with him, and they formed Knox Church, of which he became pastor. Mr. Stewart was born in Scotland, in 1800, and came to Nova Scotia in 1833. He was a man of fine natural gifts, enriched by a superior education, He spent himself most lavishly in the best interests of the Church and education. He rendered valuable service in establishing the Free Church College in Halifax and was highly successful in raising funds for it, and in encouraging young men to enter the ministry. He died, May 4, 1880, having completed his four score years in April.

 

  In 1844, a delegation from the Free Church in the Old Country visited the Maritime Provinces. At that time, about one third of the people of the Kirk at Scotsburn joined the Free Church. They worshipped in St. John's Church until 1862, when Bethel Church was built. Rev. Alexander Sutherland became their pastor. He was a stirring and energetic preacher. In 1859 he became a minister of the Scotsburn and Salt springs Churches, and in both charges gave full and fruitful proof of his ministry. He died in Nebraska, in 1897, in the 80th year of his age.

 

  Knox Church, Pictou, was organized in Jan. 1846, by a handful of mechanics and farmers whose sympathies were with the Free Church of Scotland. The church building was erected in 1848. The first minister inducted was Rev. Murdoch Sutherland. He was called, because of his burning zeal and piety, "the Robert Murray McCheyne of Nova Scotia." On account of ill health he resigned his charge in 1857, and returned to Scotland where he died. The next pastor was Rev. Alexander Ross who was inducted in 1850, and served the people for nineteen years.

 

  The people of Blue Mountain and Garden of Eden with Barney's River joined the movement in 1848, and had for their leader the Rev. D. B. Blair, a rare and remarkable man who was, in his day, the best Gaelic scholar in America. In 1852, Mr. Blair and his people set about erecting a church which was formally opened for service, before a board had been nailed on its walls, because the congregation had no other place in which to worship. In three years it was completed, without debt. For forty years Mr. Blair served this congregation and other sections adjoining with great ability and devotion.

 

  For ten years the Kirk in Pictou County struggled on without pastors. Rev. Alexander McGillivray, D.D., the only Kirk minister who did not return to Scotland after the disruption, wrought manfully and faithfully to repair the breach and to build up the church on the old foundations.

 

  Dr. McGillivray came to Nova Scotia, from Inverness, Scotland, in 1833. For five years he labored at Barney's River and Merigomish. He succeeded Mr. Fraser, in 1838, and continued there to discharge the duties of a minister with a devotion and earnestness rarely equaled, until his death, in 1862. He spread his labors over hundreds of miles of territory, to strengthen and encourage the pastorless churches. It was said of him, that he often tired out his horses, but the indefatigable Dr. McGillivray never tired.

 

  In 1848, the Synod opened a seminary at the West River of Pictou. Professor Ross who was pastor at the West River, had charge of the literary and classical departments and Professors Keir and Smith the Divinity Hall. The classes met in the Temperance Han in an ill ventilated room above the little country schoolhouse not more pretentious than the log cabin that gave birth to the renowned Princeton Seminary. Each of the students acted stoker in turn, and not only kindled the fire, but also swept the floor. Sometimes the little upper room looked tidy and sometimes it did not. The old Temperance Inn where the students boarded is still standing.

 

  In 1853 five men graduated, James McGregor McKay. James Thomson, Henry Crawford, John Macleod and James Maclean. They were the first graduates who received all their collegiate education at the West River. They all settled in country congregations, were successful ministers, and all lived to participate in their ministerial Jubilee celebration. Revs. Mr. McKay and Mr. Thomson died at the ripe old age of ninety three years. Mr. Crawford died after he passed four score years, and Mr. Macleod lived hale and hearty until he was eighty seven. Mr. Maclean, died in 1914, in his eighty eighth year and the sixtieth year of his ministry.

 

  The West River Seminary gave a great impetus to the life and work of the Presbyterian church both at home and abroad. In 1858 the Seminary and Theological Hall with its professors and students were transferred to Truro, Nova Scotia. The Synod of the Free Church of Nova Scotia, realizing their need of a native ministry, also opened a college in Halifax in 1848. It continued over a period of nearly thirty years. In 1860 the Theological department of the College at Truro was removed to Halifax, and united with the Free Church College.

 

  In 1878, the Synod purchased the property at Pine Hill and the Theological Hall was transferred there where it has since remained. As in the olden times the Ark of the Covenant moved from place to place till David, in the days of Israel's national unity and prosperity, found a permanent resting place for it on Mount Zion, "beautiful for situation," so the Divinity Hall moved from place to place till the church in her unity and prosperity provided a beautiful and, we trust, a permanent home for it in Pine Hill. The present Principal and Professor of Theology is Rev. Clarence Mackinnon, D. D., a native of Pictou County.

 

  The Presbyterian College, Halifax, is the child of the several branches of the Presbyterian Church of the Maritime Provinces, once separated but now happily united. It had its origin in the humble theological school in Pictou nearly a century ago, and since its beginning, has sent out over four hundred ministers, who have gone to almost every part of the land. The good old fathers of the church who founded and maintained this school of learning have left us a splendid educational heritage, and we owe them the debt of a grateful remembrance.

 

  The other denominations have played an important part in religious history of the County.

 

  Among the early settlers of the Eastern part of the County, who came in the years 1791 and 1802 were a number of Roman Catholics who settled in Merigomish and along the Gulf Shore. The first resident priest was the Rev. James McDonald, who came as early as 1793. He was succeeded, about 1800, by the Rev. Alexander McDonald, who remained with the people till his death, in 1816. He died in Halifax, and his remains were carried by his people through the woods all the way to Arisaig where he had had his home.

 

  The first native priest was Rev. Donald McKinnon. He died when quite a young man. The first Roman Catholic church in the county was built at Merigomish, in 1810. In 1834 the first church at Bailey's Brook was built and, in 1869, that settlement was formed into a separate parish with the Rev. D. M. McGregor, D.D., as its first priest.

 

  Stella Maris, in Pictou town, was begun in 1823. The first priest located there was Rev. Mr. Boland who was settled in 1828. The present church, which stands on one of the most prominent sites in Pictou, was erected in 1865. Father McDonald, afterwards Bishop of Newfoundland, was then in charge. From 1881 to 1892 Rev. Roderick McDonald was pastor. He was succeeded by Rev. J. J. Chisholm.

  The Parishes and Priests of the Roman Catholic Church in the county at present are: Rev. W. B. Mcdonald, Lourdes, who has been stationed there for 38 years, Rev. J. D. McLeod, New Glasgow, Rev. J. J.McKinnon, Bailey's Brook, Rev. J. A. Butts, Westville, Rev. J. McLennan, Thorburn and Merigomish, Rev. Ronald Macdonald, Pictou.

 

  The Church of England was first established within the county in the town of Pictou. The leading spirits in the first organization were Dr. Johnsone and Robert Hatton, Sr. Through the influence of the latter, a lot was secured, and he himself put up the frame in the year 1826. Three years later the church was completed, Mr. Hatton's son, Henry, being foremost in the work. The church was consecrated in 1829 by Bishop Inglis. The first rector of the parish was the Rev. Chas. Elliott, B. A., who was settled there, the 3d of April, 1832. He was appointed rector of the parish in 1834.

 

  The whole country was then his parish, and he preached once a month at Albion Mines, River John and other places. He was a man greatly beloved by his own church and had the respect of the whole community. He labored in the County for thirty-three years. He was succeeded by Revs. Messrs. Prior, Wood and Geniver. Rev. D. D. Moore was Rector until 1873, when he resigned, and the Rev. T. C. Desbarres was elected. He was followed in the year 1874, by the Rev. James P. Sheraton, now Principal of Wycliffe College. Rev. Wm. Cruden was the next Rector, and in 1877 the Rev. John Edgecombe was appointed.

 

  The old Church having been enlarged "at different times and now getting pretty old, it was decided to erect a new one. The corner-stone was laid on the 22d of May, 1879, and the fine large church in which the congregation now worship, was finally completed and the first service held on the 15th day of June, 1881. Rev. H. A. Harley succeeded Rev. Mr. Edgecombe in 1888. In the year 1852, the southern part of the parish, including Albion Mines, New Glasgow and adjoining Country, was constituted a separate parish. In 1876, the settlement of River John was separated from Pictou, and likewise constituted a parish.

 

  Christ Church, Albion Mines, was built in 1851. The earlier pastors were Revs. St. Blois, Wilkins, Bowman and Moore. The first curate at River John was Rev. M. Kaulbach. He was appointed in 1865. The Rectors and parishes at present are: Rev. A. E. Andrews, St. James Church, Pictou, Rev. F. Robertson, M. A., St. George's Church, New Glasgow, Rev. R. B. Patterson, M. A., Christ Church, Stellarton, Rev. J. F. Tupper, St. Bee's Church, Westville , Rev. A. W. L. Smith, M. A., St. John's Church, River John, and Rev. W. W. Clarkson, Trenton.

 

  The first Baptist Society in the County was organized by James Murray, who came to Pictou in 1811, and afterward removed to River John in June 18, 1815, where he baptized two persons and dispensed the communion. The society was formed on the principles of the Scotch Baptists or Disciples. The first society of the regular Baptists was formed in the year 1838 at Merigomish. A congregation was organized at River John in 1844.

 

  In 1874 a church was built at Barney's River and a small congregation worshipped there. The First Baptist Church, New Glasgow, is now the largest in the County. It was formed in 1875. The present pastor, is Rev. J. Clement Wilson. His predecessor was Rev. W. M. Smallman.

 

  The history of Methodism in Pictou County virtually begins with the opening up of the coal mines, although River John had long previously been a regular appointment of the Wallace Circuit. From 1825 to 1848 irregular visits were paid to Albion Mines (now Stellarton) by the Methodist ministers stationed at Wallace, Truro or River John. In 1845, in response to a request from the General Mining Association, among whose employees were a number of married Englishmen, Richard Weddal was sent to Albion Mines. There is no further record of appointments to this place until it was made a circuit in 1861, when Rev. J. Cassidy was stationed there.

 

  The Society in River John was organized by Rev. Mr. Snowball, in 1822. They built their first church in 1824. Since that time, River John has been one of the regular Methodist circuits.

 

  Pictou town did not become a circuit until 1868, although one or two unsuccessful attempts had been previously made to place a minister there. This circuit became a mission in 1905.

 

  New Glasgow was, until 1888, a part of the Stellarton Mission. It is to a young woman from River John that New Glasgow Methodism owes its existence today. Miss Ellen Harbourne from that circuit was married to a Mr. Walker and came to live in New Glasgow. She was a loyal Methodist, and united with the Church at Stellarton. At her request the minister from Stellarton frequently preached in a hall at New Glasgow. Rev. Douglas Chapman (1864-67) was probably the first to conduct these services. No serious attempt was made to establish a Methodist Church in New Glasgow until the time of Rev. Isaac Thurlow (1880-83). During his pastorate, the old Free Church building and lot were purchased. It was remodeled and put into its present condition at a cost of nearly $3,000. From a struggling mission, raising only $410 for its minister as late as 1899, New Glasgow became independent under Rev. E. E. England, in 1901, and is now one of the most desirable circuits of the Conference.

 

  Trenton has been attached to New Glasgow since the time of Rev. W. I. Croft (1893-96). Services were first held in the Orange Hall. Later, the little Methodist Church at Piedmont was donated to the Trenton Methodists. The Methodist Circuits with their present ministers are: Pictou, Rev. Robert Williams, Stellarton, Rev. John Phalen, River John, H. D. Townsend, Trenton, Rev. Thomas Hodgson, New Glasgow, Rev. F. E. Barrett.

 

  The census of 1911 gives the number of Presbyterians in the County 24,000, Roman Catholics 5600, Anglicans 2600, Methodists 2500, Baptists 1100. The population of County is 36,000. Out of this number 26,000 are Scotch, 5200 English, 2400 Irish, 1000 French, 376 Swiss, 240 German, 300 Negro, 172 Indian.

 

  The beginnings of the different branches of the Presbyterian Church in the County of Pictou have now been briefly traced; the Anti-Burgher Church from 1786; the Kirk from 1817, the Free Church, from 1844, and likewise, those of the other denominations. The result of the Presbyterian disruption, of 1844 was a renewed activity in that denomination. There was a spirit of rivalry between the churches. If the different branches of the Church did not provoke one another to love, they certainly did provoke to good works.

 

  The Home Mission Board which was founded in 1840, prosecuted its work as never before. Foreign Missionary enterprise was launched in 1845, and Dr. Geddie the first Missionary of the Church, was sent to the South seas in 1846. That event started a new era of zeal and liberality in the Church, never manifested before. It also brought the Churches into closer touch with one another. In 1848 the Presbyterian Church of Nova Scotia and the Free Church established "schools of the prophets," one at West River, another at Halifax.

 

  From these two schools, came a splendid band of ministers and missionaries who went far and wide, founding and building up churches. The Kirk still kept on looking across the sea for a supply of ministers, and they came. In 1853, two young men came from Scotland Rev. Alex. Maclean, D. D., a native of the County but educated in the old country, and Rev. Allan Pollock, D. D., sent over by the Colonial Committee to Nova Scotia, as a minister of the Church of Scotland. Dr. Pollock received and accepted a call to St. Andrew's Church, New Glasgow; and continued to be its pastor till 1875, when he was appointed Professor of Church history in the Presbyterian College, Halifax, and later Principal. In 1904, he resigned, and now resides in Halifax, rich in the love and esteem of the whole Canadian Church.

 

  Mr. Maclean was settled over the Kirk Congregation at Saltsprings, and held pastorates at Belfast, P. E. I. and Hopewell, N. S. In all these charges he gave full proof of his ministry. In 1911, his Diamond Jubilee was celebrated by the Presbytery of Pictou. He now resides at Eureka, N. S., in his ninety-fourth year, enjoying an honorable old age. Four young men, all natives of the County; William McMillan, Simon McGregor, George M. Grant and John Cameron, were educated in Glasgow and returned to Nova Scotia and were settled in important charges.

 

  Gradually the ecclesiastical sky was clearing after the storm. It was found that men were forgetting their old differences and settling down to a new order of things. There were three branches of the Presbyterian Church in the Province, where two was one too many. October 4, 1860 is a memorable day in the history of the Presbyterian Church. On that day the union of the Presbyterian Church of Nova Scotia, and of the Free Church took place under the title of "The Presbyterian Church of the Lower Provinces."

 

  The Synod of the Presbyterian Church of N. S. was represented by Revs. John L. Murdoch and P. G. McGregor, Professors Smith and Ross. The Synod of the Free Church, by Rev. Mr. Forbes, Professor King and Rev. Dr. Forrester. The Union meeting was held in Pictou. A tent was erected on Patterson's hill, near the town. Over this tent floated a bright, blue banner with the legend in white lilies, "For Christ's Crown and Covenant." The spot selected was where Dr. McGregor preached his first sermon in the County. Here the two parties were declared one, amid great rejoicings.

 

  There followed years of growth and prosperity in all branches of the Church. Congregations multiplied. The supply of ministers increased. Educational institutions were strengthened. Missionary enterprise was promoted, both at home and abroad. "Then had the churches rest and were edified." This prosperity was shared in very largely by the Kirk brethren as well.

 

  With the coming of young men into the ministry a spirit of Union was manifest, and grew rapidly. Churches were tired of controversy and separation; and united co-operatively in educational and missionary, as well as in devotional services. A Union of co-operation was soon followed by a Union of Organization. In 1875, all branches of the Church were merged in the Presbyterian Church in Canada.


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